Mysteries gold mine.Take an ounce of embroidered narrative, a dash of relish in the retelling, and a pound of greed, and what does the concoction create?
Either a tale as tall as Mount Everest, or an honest-to-goodness story of the American southwest and how some men died trying to get rich because of their lust for for gold. Which to believe — is it lies or is it truth — depends entirely on who is telling the tale. And, of course, on who’s listening.
This is the story of a Mexican family, the Peraltos, in the middle of the 19th century. Their journey began with a trip into Arizona, specifically into the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix. They founded a gold mine, and started taking their lodes back to Mexico.
However, as the story goes, during their final trip to their homeland in 1849, they were attacked by a band of Apaches. Only one, perhaps two family members got away and fled back to Mexico. The mine was abandoned by the Peraltos, but a legend around it began to grow.
Years later, a relative of the Peraltos supposedly told Jacob Waltz the tale, ( Waltz was nicknamed the Dutchman) who promptly went to the mountains to see if he could find the mine himself. As legend has it, Jacob found the mine, worked it, and then buried several chunks of rock with gold running through them as thick as ribbons.
As he lay dying in 1891, he told a friend of his discovery, and offered them a map to the mine’s location. And so began many ill-fated trips to find the source, the mother lode, and the riches that would follow when gold was brought down from the mountains.
Over the years, many people have claimed to have a map to the mine’s location. The problem was: they had to survive the treacherous path, which included more than a dozen sharp and circuitous turns and cliffs. Many died.
Though it might seem that a tall tale like this would perish with the gold rush days, it didn’t, and folks have continued to trek through the canyons and cliffs to this very day.
The mine has such an allure to trekkers and treasure hunters that a park has been named in the mine’s honour: Lost Dutchman State Park, about 40 miles away from Phoenix, Arizona.
Unfortunately, like Jacob Waltz himself more than a century ago, some of the gold seekers have died while trying to find a mine that may or may not even exist.
One young man, Jesse Capen of Denver, Colorado, was preoccupied with the legend to the point of obsession. He disappeared in 2009, after leaving for a trip into the Superstition Mountains during which he hoped to find the mine.
Sadly his remains were found in 2012 by a group of trekkers, his footwear jammed into a crevice in at the edge of a steep slope.
The mine itself may not even exist, and perhaps it never did, but the tragedy of misguided individuals heading off to find wealth and glory – and perishing instead — is very real indeed.
“We call them Dutch hunters out here – they’re infatuated with all the lore and history of the Dutchman mine,” said a state park official when Capen’s remains were discovered.
But did the mine ever exist, or was it the product of someone’s vivid imagination, part of a story told around a campfire in the mid-1800s?
Did a Mexican family really suffer slaughter at the hands of Native Americans when travelling back to their home? Were the Peraltos actual miners, or did they work in a different occupation entirely?
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It is impossible today to separate fact from fiction completely. A mine may well have been founded in the difficult terrain that is the Superstition Mountains, but did it produce the gold that is said to be capable of making men crazy?
No one knows. But going to the Lost Dutchman State Park, and scouring the landscape for a rock that glimmers, is fun – and a little dangerous – nonetheless.